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The maker movement hits Main Street: New storefronts across Boston let you build your own product

There was quite an interesting scene taking place recently at Makerbot’s Newbury Street store, as the 3D printing company held a printing workshop for children.

A seven-year old named Victor could be observed manipulating shapes with a 3D modelling software program. He chooses red blocks, adjusts the dimensions, and then pieces them together. A Makerbot employee assigned to oversee the children’s work takes a look at Victor’s creation.

“That’s a good looking robot,” he says.

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“It’s actually a Minecraft person,” Victor replies, as he rotates the model into clear view.

Victor’s creation does indeed resemble a character from Minecraft, the popular “building” video game. Also noticeable is the big letter S on Victor’s robot.

“His name is Steve,” he says.

The employee moves to the next workstation, where Victor’s 11-year old older brother, Matthew, is working on a Star Wars themed project. He resists assistance. “I’ve done this before,” he says.

It is quite a scene, a room full of kids, using technology to design and print their own toys — in the middle of Boston’s most robust shopping district.

The development is not surprising to Cambridge City Council member Nadeem Mazen.

“These kids have high levels of computer and mobile device literacy,” he said. “Maybe [its] not the kinds their schools think they should have, but in manners of making, sharing, and ideating, they are way ahead of the curve,” Mazen explained. “The future is unwritten as far as they’re concerned.”

Mazen is an MIT graduate who, prior to being a city council member, was involved with makerspaces in the Boston area. He is also the cofounder of Danger!awesome, a storied 3D printing facility in Central Square.

“Cambridge is a mecca,” said Mazen. “The density of places like this in the area is unprecedented. Once the service and benefit to the community has been established, we’re going to see a lot of growth.”

“I think Massachussets is going to be a conversation leader,” he said.

“This future is about how much we value quickly turning an idea into it’s physical form.“ he added. ”I think it’s important to provide access to these kinds of tools for educational purposes.”

Alluding to the yellow tape he had to navigate to get access to prototyping tools at MIT, Mazen remarked, “you don’t have to adhere to six years of math tests in order to make something anymore.”

Back on Newbury Street e-commerce jewelry startup, Gemvara, has also opened their own temporary pop-up shop.

Gemvara does not put laser cutters and precious stones in the hands of consumers. However, it does offer a trademarked software on which users model and customize their jewelry. Visitors to the Gemvara store can choose from twenty-nine different gemstones and metals to design rings, earrings, and other accessories.

Callie Smith, who runs the Gemvara store, said they were pushed into the “brick and mortar” shop business model by their competition. So they opened a Newbury Street store that looks more like an art gallery or a corporate showroom than a jewelry store.

“We have no inventory,” Smith said.

“Our gemstone buyer finds your stone and our jewelry makers fulfill these orders one at a time,” she added. “We really had to create this “just-in-time” jewelry manufacturing industry on our own.”

“Nobody’s done this before.”

Gemvara chief executive Janet Holian explained that the goals for the pop-up store are primarily for market research and to raise brand awareness.

“The Newbury Street location is an experiment in to see if offering the chance to try on our customizable jewelry can speed up the purchase decision,“ Holian said. ”The temporary space was also designed to challenge traditional jewelry store shopping.”

“It is the anti-jewelry store,” she said.

Both Gemvara and Makerbot are trying to create a space for people to R&D their own creations, a space which in Holian’s words is “not intimidating, and it is not high pressure.”

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